Thursday, January 27, 2011

How did the journey to America begin

This is the story of my American dream: I escaped from hell crossing a river of fire. I came as a slave to the land of the free, empty-handed and on my knees. Today I walk tall and harbor great expectations for the future. Want to jump to the end of the story? Then read: How did I obtain my Green Card?

I remember the day I started my path to America: February 10th, 2000. I woke up with the equivalent to $10 in my bank account to pay business expenses, rent, car, groceries, utilities, insurance, and a long et cetera. The money I had left was barely enough for that day. I was living in a metropolitan city, providing services to the oil industry with my engineering business, trying to save for a property and retirement... the usual middle class struggle. I had been working like a mule for my own thriving business, making sales and submitting invoices periodically for the previous two years.

In 1999 Colombia, my origin country, went through its worst economic recession in 70 years, precisely when I was at the beginning of my career and had little savings. Invoice payments ceased at many levels of government and industry. Liquidity was null. The average credit card interest peaked 70%. It was impossible to get bridging loans. The invoices I submitted to my buyers went unpaid for several months.

My line of work required traveling throughout the entire country. I had to pass through guerrilla-dominated regions, paramilitary territory, drug fields, criminal areas, no man's land... I had to see many things that would rather forget. Many times I was held at gun point, insulted, robbed, threatened, and every time a little part of me was killed. I used to be mellow and sweet; now I have this heavy dark cloud hanging mercilessly from my heart. Since then I have grown deeper and darker.

Broke and desperate, I had the help of my then father-in-law who mentioned to a friend of his that I was looking for a job. His friend was a lady who happened to be the new manager of an American company that was about to open an office in Cartagena. They were looking for computer programmers for enterprise information systems.

The job seemed easy to me. I had spent 6 years earning a degree in engineering from the top Colombian university, and I had 4 years of professional experience at the time. I was more familiar with engineering problems than with information technology problems, but since I had worked extensively in embedded software and computer programs in which the algorithms were frankly difficult, I decided that the job would be a piece of cake. The salary was good, and promised to solve many of my immediate problems. And, most important, I would be in an office, not in the battlefield.

However, to get there I would have to cross a river of fire... literally.

Keep reading: How did I obtain a work visa for the US?